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By Chris Oddo | @TheFanChild | Saturday January 25, 2020

 
Sofia Kenin

Sofia Kenin battled past Coco Gauff to book her first major quarterfinal on Day 7 in Melbourne.

Photo Source: Mark Peterson/ Corleve

Coco Gauff’s latest dream run was halted by gritty American Sofia Kenin on Day 7 in Melbourne, as the 21-year-old overcame an early deficit and cruised through a lopsided third set to notch her first career Grand Slam quarterfinal.

Kenin’s 6-7(5) 6-3 6-0 triumph sets a quarterfinal clash with another first-time major quarterfinalist in Ons Jabeur of Tunisia.

It also sets the stage for a rivalry that could become generational in the year's to come.

Tennis Express

Kenin, known for her competitive wherewithal and her punchy groundstrokes and personality, had her hands full with the young American as the pair traded blows in a high-quality first set that saw Gauff rally from 4-2 down to claim the stanza in a tiebreaker.

But as Gauff's energy fizzled, Kenin's relentless motor never stopped revving as she gradually took over the match in sets two and three. It was an impressive, professional performance from a player who has been overshadowed by the younger Gauff at the last three majors.

But being overshadowed is not a concern, Kenin says. And it's understandable.

"Of course, she has a lot of hype," Kenin told reporters. "She has a big name. Obviously she's playing well. Yeah, I just tried not to let that get the better of me, just try to take it like any other match, focus on myself, focus on my game, grind it out basically."

Kenin cooly engineered a dramatic turnaround from an opening set which saw Gauff outpunch her in a freewheeling stanza that was peppered with creative rallies and impressive finishing touches. Gauff struck several lethal backhands down the line and closed swiftly at net, punching volleys for winners, as Kenin worked the angles and spot-served efficiently to make it a back-and-forth battle.

Kenin looked to be in danger of letting the match slip away after tossing in two double-faults in a shaky first-set tiebreaker, but the 14th seed had other ideas. Down a set, she emerged from a bathroom break more determined than ever and proceeded to go about the business of taking the play to Gauff for the remainder of the contest.

The American put her steely temperament on display and locked down her ground game against Gauff, limiting her unforced errors (just nine against 15 winners across sets two and three) and displaying patience and persistence as Gauff’s game slowly slid off the rails.

Gauff, who quickly became a fan favorite in Melbourne as she bid to become the youngest player to reach a major quarterfinal since 2005, is still alive in the doubles with her partner Caty McNally.

"I had a lot of fun," she said after the match. "The crowd was really rooting for me. I had a great tournament. I'm looking forward for doubles tomorrow."

But another expectation-shattering run in singles has come to an end. The American has played her last match as a 15-year-old and owns an 8-3 record since making her debut at Wimbledon last summer. Gauff is only the third player in last 30 years to win seven or more Grand Slam matches before her 16th birthday. Jennifer Capriati (28) and Martina Hingis (20) are the others.


When asked if she was envious of all the hype that Gauff has been receiving since she came onto the scene last year, Kenin said Gauff's accolades are well-deserved. If there was any challenge it was to block it out and just focus on the tennis.

"I'm happy she's doing well," Kenin said. "We're all supporting each other. I try not to let that get in my head. I try just to block it all out, do what I do best. The hype is for her. She's obviously done great stuff, of course. It's absolutely normal. Just try not to let that get in my head.

Kenin has traveled under the radar relative to Gauff, despite the fact that she is only 21, holds a Top 15 ranking and claimed three titles in a breakout 2019. But that hype machine will now focus on Kenin, though it isn't all that important to her.

"I didn't do it for the hype," she said. "I did it for myself because I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it. I want to show who I am, show my best tennis, show why I'm there, why I belong. I'm doing that."

 

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